There are many powerlifting chest exercises to choose from, and a single list cannot begin to describe all of them. Big chest muscles, or pectorals, are the goal of many powerlifters and bodybuilders alike. This article is targeted at powerlifters, however, these exercises apply to anyone looking to build chest strength.
Put simply, the best chest exercises for powerlifters are:
- Bench Press
- Reverse Grip Press
- Dips for Chest
- Suspension Push-Up
- Weighted Push-Up
- Dumbbell Press
- Military Press
- Cable Flys
- Regular Pushups
Of course, there are other chest exercises that work, but I’ve found that these ones work the best. Below, I’ll go over each workout more in-depth if you’re looking for more information. Otherwise, that’s all you need to know.
Whether you are an experienced powerlifter who values chest strength or just starting out on your chest building journey, there are some exercises that can help you maximize your workouts.
You can engage in random weight lifting but you may end up wasting your time in the gym and not achieve your desired goals. For powerlifting in general, the bench press, squat, and deadlift are still the core exercises, but for stronger chest building, you need specific exercises and their variations.
When you’re doing chest workouts, you probably don’t need a lifting belt. I just wrote an article about all the times you do need a lifting belt, so check that post out next!
The bench press is without a doubt one of the cornerstone lifts of the fitness community and one of the most common powerlifting chest exercises. This exercise is great and one of the most simple for building chest muscle.
You can do the bench press with a barbell or dumbbells, but the traditional bench press uses a barbell. Using dumbbells can be safer, especially if you’re new to powerlifting. If the weight is too much to lift, you can just drop them. With a barbell, if you drop the weight, it’ll crush you, and can actually cause serious injury.
To do a bench press, start off with just the bar, and no weights. Lay down on the bench, with your eyes right under the bar. Push up on the bar until your arms are straight, then bring it down until it touches your chest. Then, push the bar back up until your arms are straight again.
It’s common for weightlifters to do 5 sets, each with 5 reps. This makes it so that you’re still lifting a lot, but it won’t take too much time to finish your workout. You can use this to figure out how much weight you should be lifting, building up from just the bar.
For powerlifting competitions, you’ll only be doing one rep. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, you might try doing fewer reps, with more weight.
Reverse Grip Press
This is a variation of bench press using a dumbbell. It increases chest strength by powering muscles in the chest. As its name suggests, you hold the dumbbell with your palm directed towards you, reversed from the traditional bench press.
The setup for the reverse grip press is the same as the bench press. The only difference is that you’ll grab the bar with your palms faced towards you, instead of away.
You then follow up with up and down movements while keeping your chest engaged. The turning of the wrists, differing from the bench press, takes stress off of your shoulders.
Many complaints of bench pressing are that it hurts the lifters shoulders, and this simple adjustment solves the issue. The reverse grip press also works the triceps more than the bench press. This allows for more to be accomplished with the same amount of lifting.
If the bench press hurts your shoulders, try doing the reverse grip press. It’ll take the pressure off of your shoulders, and strengthen the triceps.
If you’ve never tried the reverse grip press before, make sure you have somebody to spot you. It can be easy to drop the weight if you aren’t familiar with the exercise, and you want to keep yourself safe.
Dips for Chest
This exercise requires that you balance yourself between two parallel bars with your two hands, then lower your torso and finally return to your starting position using your chest to complete the cycle.
It’s required that a lifter uses only their bodyweight for dips, for the most part. However, some lifters tie weights or chains to their legs to make it more difficult. Dips are one of the easiest exercises to perform.
Using your bodyweight instead of dumbbells or barbells, it removes the complication of picking weights and holding them through the duration of your exercise. Dips are relatively easy to complete, but they come with drawbacks.
For example, if someone is overweight and attempting to slim down rather than building muscle, it may be difficult for them to lift their own body weight.
There are dip machines for assisting with this exercise if you struggle to complete it. This machine uses weight to counterbalance your bodyweight, making it easier to finish.
My favorite part about dips for chest is that they’re easy to do. Despite the drawbacks of your bodyweight as the max, there are weights in the machine that make it easier for you.
Dips are hard to do, and most people can’t do too many of them with their full bodyweight. Besides the chest, they also work your triceps pretty intensely.
Pushups are another very common exercise, even among those who don’t lift. The suspension pushup has its differences from regular pushups, but the actions are very similar.
These pushups require some type of strap, usually canvas or rubber, and something to attach them to. Being more complicated than regular pushups, they come with benefits.
Suspension pushups strengthen the core as well as the pectorals, allowing more muscle groups to be worked. Although these are beneficial, they have downsides.
They may be difficult for beginners to attempt as it requires more muscles, causing shaking of the body when you put weight on the straps. A lifter can overcome this by building strength with other exercises first, or simply dealing with the shaking.
Another drawback is that suspension pushups require extra equipment. Most lifts can be completed with bodyweight, dumbbells or barbells, but these require straps, which not every gym will have.
Further complications include the need for somewhere to set up the straps, in order to complete the exercise. Not every gym will have this required space.
While suspension pushups may prove difficult to set up, they’re worth it if you can find the equipment and space.
Since suspension pushups are harder to set up, I found a great video on how to do them. The last thing you’d want to do while trying to get a bigger chest is hurting yourself, so make sure that you’re doing it right.
Weighted pushups are a simple concept; a pushup with added weight. The weight could be a plate or a weight vest. Traditional push-ups are limited to your bodyweight. Adding external weight allows for theoretically limitless expansion.
One more benefit of this exercise is the availability of equipment. Every single gym in the world will include barbell weights that you can place on your back.
Some more intricate exercises require obscure equipment. While they may be beneficial, if you can’t find the equipment to do them, they’re useless.
Adding more weight allows you to strengthen the same muscles even more. You can even do weighted pushups at home, provided you have the weights.
Most powerlifters stay away from pushups, opting for traditional bench press instead. For these people, pushups or weighted pushups can be a great way to warm up your chest and whole upper body.
For non-powerlifters, weighted pushups are a great way to build overall strength. Aside from your chest, they work out your core, which is abs, as well as your arms and back.
Weighted pushups can also help if you have weights, but no dumbbell. If you’re waiting for the bench in the gym, grab an extra weight or two and do some pushups.
This one is really similar to the conventional bench press, with a couple added benefits. Having your hands independent from each other, unlike with a barbell, allows a wider, free range of motion.
The dumbbell press targets the same pectoral muscles as other exercises but eliminates uneven work. When you use a traditional barbell, you can push harder with one side of your body, working one muscle harder than the other. With dumbbells, you have to put force onto both pectorals in order to actually lift the weights.
Dumbbells aren’t without their downsides, however. Using single dumbbells creates a restriction on how much weight you can actually lift. Many gyms only have weights that go up to 100 pounds, unlike barbells, where you can stack on as many weights as you want.
There’s also a greater risk of injury and a smaller risk at the same time. With two different weights, it becomes easier to drop the weights, or bend at an awkward angle and potentially tear a muscle.
This being said, if you drop the dumbbells, they’ll just hit the floor. With the traditional bench press, if you drop it, the bar will fall onto you and crush your body, which is extremely dangerous.
In the end, the difference between the dumbbell press and bench press is a trade-off of benefits and risks. The dumbbell press is great for targeting your chest muscles and creating a free range of motion.
The military press is another great exercise
With the overhead press, you can use your hips and lower body to get the weight up above your body. With the military press, you lift the weight up above your head using only your upper body. This further isolates muscle groups and targets your upper body.
As I mentioned, the military press isn’t mainly a chest exercise. It’s referred to as a compound exercise, like deadlifting, where multiple different muscles are used.
Compound exercises are great for building overall strength. Although the military press doesn’t directly target the chest, your pectorals will still become stronger as well as the rest of your upper body.
The military press is a little more complicated than the traditional bench press or pushup. It takes a little bit more work to learn, and practice to get the technique right. With any exercise you should make sure you’re doing it right, or else you risk seriously injuring
If you’re interested in this exercise, make sure you know how to do it right. If you want to learn, here’s a great video I found on how to do the military press.
Cable flyes, or chest flyes, are also great for targeting the chest muscles. These are where you stand in between two machines, grab the cables that are attached to weights, and move your arms like you’re “flying”.
Cable flyes are a little harder to set up, so here’s a video that teaches you how to do this more in depth.
If you do them wrong you could get hurt, or at the very least you won’t be working your chest muscles to the max. Learn how to do them to get the most results out of your efforts.
This is a great exercise for isolating your pectorals, but there is one downside I can think of. Not all gyms will have a machine that allows you to do chest flyes.
Another benefit to cable flyes is how wide the range of weights are. With machines like these, the weights range from 10 pounds potentially up to hundreds, depending on your gym. This gives you a wide variety of weights, for whatever level of lifter you are.
Cable flyes are similar to dumbbell flyes but easier to do. Dumbbell flyes are much easier to do wrong, and either hurt yourself or not make any progress.
Chest flyes can be great, but if you miss out because of a lack of equipment, you’ll be ok. That’s exactly why we have 8 other workouts on this list.
While there are definitely tons of benefits for other chest exercises, the traditional pushup is still hard to beat.
Workouts like the bench press are great for powerlifters because you can add however much weight you want, at least as much as the barbell can hold.
This being said, pushups are great for most people. Pushups can be done anywhere that you have space. They don’t require a gym, or equipment, and you can do them with only your bodyweight.
Doing them with your own bodyweight is a positive, but it can also be negative. While you don’t need weights, you’re somewhat limited in how much weight you can do with pushups.
If you’re outside the gym, you’re pretty much limited to how much you weigh.
Pushups make for a great warm-up, as well as building overall strength. As I mentioned earlier, pushups are compound exercises, meaning they work out multiple different muscle groups.
Despite pushups’ restrictions, we put weighted pushups on this list for a reason. If you are in the gym, you can use weight to get more out of the exercise. Check out this video on how to do a pushup if you need a quick refresh.
What Makes a Good Chest Workout?
There are hundreds if not thousands of chest workouts available. As with other weightlifting topics, this can get confusing.
We handpicked what we believe are the most beneficial workouts to build your chest even bigger. The best powerlifting exercises for developing your chest muscles are discussed below.
The best exercises for growing your chest are the ones that isolate your muscles. This means that the workout targets specific muscles in your chest, rather than muscles in your arms or back.
Workouts that use multiple muscles are called compound exercises. They have their place too, some of them on this list, but isolation exercises will do the most for your chest.
Compound exercises are great for building overall strength, and all of the big 3 powerlifting lifts are compound. Although compound exercises are good, isolation exercises will help you to build and strengthen specific muscles.
Isolation exercises for your chest will give your muscles the focused work that they need to grow and get bigger/stronger.
This list of exercises is a mix of the two to build your muscles carefully and give you overall development. You shouldn’t do all of these in one day, maybe not in a week, and instead pick a few that suit you best.
The Bottom Line
Many powerlifters jump into chest strength training without the proper knowledge of exercises and strategies to use. They end up quitting after getting disappointing results.
While quitting may sometimes be seen as the easiest option, if you quit, you’ll never make any improvements with your lifting.
You need to separate yourself from this group and develop a stronger chest by using the powerlifting chest exercises discussed in this article.
As with anything, weightlifting especially, it takes time to see improvements. You need to have the discipline and patience to continue lifting and know that you’ll see improvements in the future.
You shouldn’t expect to see
This being said, the period of time where you start powerlifting is where you improve the fastest. You’ll get stronger much faster in your 1st year than your 5th year of powerlifting or weightlifting.
There are two types of exercises, compound, and isolation. The best way to build your chest muscles is by using a mix of the two, to isolate your chest, but also build overall strength.
If you’re a powerlifter, you probably know that powerlifting consists of three main exercises, the bench press, deadlift, and squat. If you want to learn about more exercises, check out this article I wrote on 10 must do powerlifting exercises.
Take your time and you’ll see results. Even if it takes a while, know that progress will come, and you’ll be making yourself stronger and healthier along the way.